New Iranian Missile May Outflank U.S. Defenses

By Timmerman, Kenneth R. | Insight on the News, May 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

New Iranian Missile May Outflank U.S. Defenses


Timmerman, Kenneth R., Insight on the News


Iran has test-fired a sea-launched ballistic missile, according to classified U.S. intelligence reports, which could be used in a devastating stealth attack against the United States or Israel for which the United States has no known or planned defense.

The reports, which are well-known to the White House but have not been disseminated to the appropriate congressional committees, detailed the test-firing by Iran of a short-range surface-to-surface missile last spring from a barge in the Caspian Sea.

Members of the congressionally mandated Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, chaired by former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, were briefed on the Iranian test as they were writing their final report last June. However, they have been prevented from mentioning it in public because the information remains classified. In the report's executive summary, released July 15, 1998, the commission warned of "alternative ballistic missile launch modes" such as sea launch but did not mention Iran by name. Basing ballistic missiles aboard cargo ships or freighters "could enable a country to pose a direct territorial threat to the U.S. sooner than it could by waiting to develop an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] for launch from its own territory," the report said.

At a congressional forum on missile defense Feb. 18, commission member R. James Woolsey, who resigned as CIA director in January 1995, said sea-launched ballistic missiles were strategically important because they would give an adversary the ability to defeat the national ballistic-missile defense system being planned by the Clinton administration.

The administration's point man on National Missile Defense, National Security Council deputy Robert Bell, insists that U.S. missile defenses be tailored to "specific threats" from known programs under development in North Korea and Iran. The programs being considered do not include Iran's sea-launch capability.

Defense analyst Scott McMahon believes that an Iranian sea-launched missile program of this type is of great concern. "A ballistic missile or cruise missile launched from a cargo ship close to our shores would be able to fly in beneath our detection radars" he said. "If a rogue state such as Iran were to launch a missile off the East Coast of the United States, it could hit Washington or New York before an interceptor missile from one of the National Missile Defense sites could reach it."

Under the Clinton administration plan, which has been highly criticized by Congress, the United States will develop a single ground-based site for national missile-defense interceptors, located in Grand Forks, N. …

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